February 3, 2011

Amendment to Criminalize the Use of Laser Pointers to Target Aircraft Passes in Senate

Washington, DC – The Senate has passed, with a 96-1 vote, an amendment introduced by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) that would crack down on individuals who shine laser pointers at aircraft – an action which can temporarily blind pilots and put passengers at risk. The bipartisan amendment, which is cosponsored by Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Dan Inouye (D-HI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Mark Kirk (R-IL) would make it a crime to knowingly aim a laser pointer at an aircraft, and subject violators to fines or imprisonment for up to 5 years. The bill exempts those using lasers for legitimate aviation purposes such as research and development, training, or emergency signaling.

“Shining lasers at airplanes is not a game and places passengers and crew at risk,” said Whitehouse. “With the increasing occurrence of these types of incidents, prosecutors must have strong tools to punish and deter this dangerous conduct.”

“Pointing lasers at aircraft is a terrible idea and we should crack down on anyone foolish enough to do it,” Chairman Rockefeller said. “Laser strikes can temporarily blind pilots, putting planes and the traveling public at risk during takeoff and landing. I am proud to support this bipartisan amendment and urge my fellow Senators to pass this important safety provision.”

“By setting tough penalties for those who try to disrupt and blind pilots with laser pointers, we are taking a major step toward improving the safety of pilots and airline passengers nationwide,” said Boxer.

“As we work towards modernizing our nation’s aviation industry, passenger safety must remain a top concern. At O’Hare airport in Chicago, laser incidents have been on the rise with nearly 100 reports last year alone.” Durbin said. “Airlines, airports and law enforcement all agree: we must do all that we can to prevent lasers from being pointed at aircraft.”

“This bipartisan effort is a simple solution to a life-threatening game of targeting airplanes with lasers, which continues to be on the rise,” said Kirk. “I hope this amendment serves as a wake-up call to violators and curbs this dangerous practice. “

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the number of reports from lasers being pointed at airplanes nearly doubled in 2010 – to more than 2,800. In 2010, Los Angeles International Airport had the highest number of laser events of any individual airport with 102 reports. Theodore Francis Green Airport in Warwick, RI had 12 incidents during the last year. The increase in incidents appears to be caused by the increasing availability of new, high-powered laser devices.

The amendment is supported by the Air Line Pilots Association, National Association of Police Organizations, and The Rhode Island Pilots Association. Last month, companion bipartisan legislation sponsored by Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) was favorably reported by the House Judiciary Committee.


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